Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Graffiti A Sign of Cultural Decay

It was a bad sign and disheartening to see. While strolling along the new, upper-cliff walk at Fort Williams in Cape Elizabeth, Maine — one of my favorite places — I saw the graffiti. Park officials had cleared brush from a small level area and put in a picnic table surrounded by a semicircle of ten or twelve boulders rolled into place. Then some selfish, depraved individual came along with a can of red spray paint and defaced them.

It’s an otherwise lovely spot in a stunningly beautiful park with views of Portland Head Light, the shipping channel to Portland Harbor, islands in Casco Bay, and the open Atlantic beyond. Now, however, anyone enjoying a picnic there is forced to look at undecipherable symbols on most of the boulders and a good old, “F*** You” on one of them. If I were a judge and the apprehended vandal came before me, I would force him (it’s most likely a young male) to sand off every bit of that red paint by hand, however long that takes, or go to jail for the maximum sentence.

Graffiti signals a deteriorating society, the cultural equivalent of a canary in a coal mine. It should be eradicated as soon as it is detected. To leave it is to invite more. I’d liken it to the “broken window theory” first put forth by George Kelling and James Wilson in a 1982 Atlantic article: “if a window in a building is broken and is left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken.” It’s the same with graffiti. Leave it up and it will spread.
Woodford's Corner http://portlanddaily.cradockphotography.com
I’ve witnessed the phenomenon over the past seven years driving up and down Portland, Maine’s Forest Avenue every week. Stuck in traffic, I’d stare at graffiti on buildings and rooftops. At first, property owners would hastily remove it either by sandblasting it off brick walls or painting over it on other surfaces. After a year or two, however, those efforts slowed down. Now it appears proprietors have given up and the contagion is getting out of control.

"Graffiti is Art, Not Vandalism" claims an article in the Temple University newspaper Temple News. The argument is ridiculous at best. Graffiti spoils someone else’s property. I’d liken it to a dog lifting his leg on a building to mark his territory. How would a genuine artist feel if he or she purchased a large canvas and a graffiti “artist” sprayed on it in the dark of night? If vandal “artists” won’t rent billboards, how about they walk around wearing a sandwich board to display their “art”? One commenter wrote: “Graffiti is filth, period. That is like saying I took an artistic dump on the sidewalk.”
Subway in Rome
In Rome four years ago I hired a guide to show us around the Eternal City. He pointed out endless fountains — repetitive, stone-carved, muscular nudes laying around displaying genitalia. We, especially my grandson and I, were more interested in historical sites like the Colosseum and the Vatican, but each day I would ask him his opinion of the graffiti we were seeing everywhere. “Oh, that’s art too,” he insisted. On the third day, we encountered old paintings under an archway defaced by someone with a spray can. Finally, he admitted, “That is sh*t!”

This pushed our guide over the edge
Guides are licensed by Italy’s government to comment only in certain ways, but our guide got so exasperated he finally ignored those constraints. Rome was bad, but Athens, Greece is by far the worst graffiti-ridden European city I’ve seen so far. It’s a rather ugly city anyway, apart from the Acropolis and a few other sites, and graffiti is epidemic. On that trip, I was part of a larger family group and didn’t want to rain on the parade by asking our guide about it — a lovely older woman named Dora. There was much less in the rest of Greece outside Athens which was amazingly beautiful.

Walking back from Acropolis in Athens
The graffiti I saw at Fort Williams was fresh. Park officials there are very diligent and I hope they will have either painted the stones or replaced them by the time I return next weekend. The City of Portland is attempting to alleviate their problem by advising property owners, but I’m sad to report that it seems to be losing the battle.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Working With Words and Images

This weekly column pleases some and annoys others. One of the newspapers in which it runs editorialized years ago that people either love it or hate it. Last week’s edition featured a letter from Connecticut residents who summer in Casco, Maine and describing my columns as “filled with vitriol and hate.” The writers threatened to cancel their subscription should the columns continue to appear. This week, a letter from a local woman appeared declaring the columns to be a “breath of fresh air.” She sends them to friends in Connecticut who “enjoy [my] approach on state and national issues.”

My photographs are received differently. Some people love them while others just seem indifferent. Photographs don’t generate controversy the way columns do. They either resonate with viewers or they don’t. Some people like them well enough they throw down money for enlargements to hang on their walls, but no one has yet felt compelled to express a negative opinion.

Thinking and feeling go into creating both a photograph and a column. When I see something beautiful or dramatic, I have to think about how to frame the scene — what angles to use and what settings to make on my camera and lens. Then come cropping and editing. Lastly, I must decide which photos to keep and which to discard. Columns and photographs each communicate my view of the world to others, yet some ideas expressed in the columns grate on people while images in the photos do not.

Often I need a break from writing when my brain gets tired as I struggle to find words that adequately express what’s in it. I’ll get up and walk around a bit, then return to the computer and pull up photographs to edit instead of the unfinished column. I’m using my brain again, but a different part of it. Working with images can energize me after a search for words has exhausted me.

There’s deadline pressure when writing columns every week, but there can be time pressure when taking photographs too. Walking or driving, I’ll stop and try to capture a passing scene, but by the time I have my camera in hand with the proper settings, the light has changed and the opportunity has passed. In another case, I’d been watching a nesting loon on Kezar Lake for weeks, boating to the site several times trying to be there for a photo of her chick. Last Saturday I saw that she had left the nest. I looked all around that section of the lake for her and the chick but never saw them.

Some letter-writers have declared my columns are the sole reason they buy a paper. Others fulminate against them, heaping scorn on both me for writing them and the paper for publishing them. I wonder why they don’t just skip over the column. What compels them to read it? It must be something akin to attending a horror movie or reading a Stephen King novel. Why take the time to view something you know will disturb you? Is it the adrenaline rush? Maybe they’re progressives trying to expose themselves to a conservative view — and then get so incensed they must write something scathing in opposition.

When seeing my photographs hanging somewhere, people can either can stop and look or just walk on by. Unlike angry readers, those who see my photos don’t feel compelled to share negative impressions. I’ve never gotten an email, a letter, a phone call, a text, or a comment that my photos are incendiary, hateful, racist, homophobic, xenophobic, sexist, or vitriolic.

It’s not as if all my images depict beautiful things. I have pictures of gruesome things like a hawk tearing a robin apart, an eagle ripping up a fish, an approaching thunderstorm about to snap off trees or uproot them, a gathering of angry protesters, a fight between an eagle and an osprey, and hunters looking for deer to kill. People seem to just accept these images as depictions of reality, but when I write about unsavory actions by leftist politicians or by certain protected minority groups, I’m excoriated as a hate-filled villain.

Every week I spend hours both writing and working with photographs. The extra income is nice but I do it because I like it, especially moving from one to the other. Photography takes me outside. It gets me up early to catch morning light. Never do I catch all the beauty in a scene that inspires me, but sometimes I can obtain a reasonable facsimile. Writing makes me sit down and reflect on things.

I can think of worse ways to spend my remaining time on this earth, so I guess I’ll continue.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Politically Correct Discrimination

At exclusive colleges and universities in 2016, conservative students held satirical “Affirmative Action Bake Sales” to spotlight discrimination against whites applying for admission. Cookies were sold to Native Americans for 25¢ whereas blacks were charged 75¢, Latinos $1.00, Asians $1.50, and whites $2.00. Women of any race got 25¢ off. SAT scores required for admission to those elite schools also varied according to race and pretty much correlated to the prices of cookies. Asians needed higher SATs. So did whites. Lower scores were accepted for minorities and women.

Protesters at UT bake sale
Young Americans for Freedom hoped to initiate civil discussion of Affirmative Action policies at the University of Texas and there was some, but things went downhill and the event ended in violence according to campusreform.org. Opponents shouted epithets like Nazi! You deserve to be punched! Others yelled “Get the f*** out!” Still others tried to steal the cookies and overturned the table on which the cookies were displayed.

Last weekend, SkyNews reported on an event in Detroit along the same lines, but it wasn’t satirical like the event at the University of Texas. It was serious: “The organisers of the AfroFuture Fest, set for 3-4 August, are charging lower rates for tickets bought by ‘people of colour’ than for ‘non-people of colour.” Early bird tickets for ‘POC were $10 and $20 for ‘Non-POC.’”

In the FAQ section of their web site, they explained: "Why do we have POC (people of colour) and Non-POC (white people) tickets? I'm glad you asked! Equality means treating everyone the same. Equity is insuring (sic) everyone has what they need to be successful. Our ticket structure was built to insure (sic) that the most marginalised communities (people of colour) are provided with an equitable chance at enjoying events in their own community (black Detroit).”

Tiny Jag
In response, one entertainer has withdrawn from AfroFuture Fest: “Tiny Jag, a biracial rapper based in Detroit, has quit the event and insisted AfroFuture Fest removed her name from all promotional material… ‘I was immediately enraged just because I am biracial… It seems almost like it has spite, and unfortunately with spite comes hate…’ [she said.]”

Good for her, but it would have been better if she’d quit on principle alone and not because she’s “biracial.” Most of us are multiracial — or multiethnic at least — as more and more people learn when they get results their DNA analysis after paying $50-$100. It’s way past time to put all race-based quotas in our rear-view mirror and affirm that there’s really only one race — the human race.

The word “discriminate” used to be neutral, meaning “distinguish”; “discern”; or “differentiate.” It described an ability to detect finer differences between similar things. It had at least one positive connotation when used to describe someone with nuanced taste in art, in food, or in human character. Then in the 1950s and 60s it developed a strongly negative connotation when describing racist attitudes — referring primarily to some white people averse to other races. In that context it was often employed as part of the phrase: “discriminate against.”

Forced, race-based, school busing is back in the news after some 2020 Democrats put their fingers up into the political winds. California Senator Kamala Harris scored points against front-runner and former Vice President Joe Biden in their first debate when she criticized Biden’s sponsorship of an anti-busing bill while he was a US Senator from Delaware back in the 1970s. There actually were conservative Democrats in those days, and not a few of them either. They opposed racial segregation in schools when black students were denied admission, but could not support forced busing when imposed by a federal judge and left-wing Democrats because some schools were majority black.

In the 1960s, former Democrat Congresswoman Louise Day Hicks opposed any plan to bus Boston first graders across town and pointed out that schools in Boston’s Chinatown were majority Chinese, in the North End they were majority Italian, and in South Boston or Charlestown (where my family comes from) they were majority Irish. These were neighborhood schools and people wanted their kids to attend school in their own neighborhood. It wasn’t about race until the US government under Federal Judge Arthur Garrity made it so by forcing six-year-olds to be bused past the school on their block and sent across town because of their skin color.

The federal government’s forced busing plan was based on racial discrimination pure and simple. Then-Senator Joe Biden was right to oppose it, but he’s backtracking now and that’s no surprise. Biden has demonstrated over forty years that he goes where the wind blows. California Senator Kamala Harris resurrected that highly-charged busing issue because she would do anything to peel away support from the front-running Biden.

Biden is an old, white guy and she’s a younger black woman. In today’s Democrat Party, racial and sexual identity politics come right after abortion on its list of most important issues.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Free Everything For Everyone

What can 2020 Democrats say to the millions of Americans who have scrimped and sacrificed for a decade or more to pay off student loans? Do Democrat presidential candidates give them any thought at all when proposing to erase a trillion-and-a-half dollars of student debt that others owe? Will there be a reparations program for those who worked like slaves to pay off their loans? Or, must we pay the debts others incurred as well? Where is the justice in that?

My choice of where to attend college was based on what I could afford and Massachusetts state colleges and universities were within my reach. Others at my small, Catholic high school went on to expensive, private colleges because their parents could afford to pay, or because they took out loans. Taxpayers in Massachusetts subsidized the universities from which I graduated and I appreciate that, but I paid taxes too because I’ve worked since I was sixteen, including while I was in high school and college. I worked full-time during two years of undergrad and another two years of grad school.

Working is what I was doing while many of my peers were smoking weed and drinking beer in dorms and frat houses. Never did I take loans or grants from government, and I didn’t ask my parents for money either, knowing I was one of eight children. I paid my own way, but when my wife went back to school later in life she took out some loans because we had four children, some of whom were also going to college. We paid those loans off within a few years and celebrated the last installment.

Not only would some 2020 Democrats forgive student loans, but they’d also make college free as well. Taxpayers would fund students who major in women’s studies, gender studies, and queer studies, and other majors of questionable academic value even though there are few, if any, jobs for which those “studies” prepare them. Democrat candidates are promising all kinds of free stuff — and not just for Americans either. During last Thursday’s televised debate, a moderator asked how many of them supported free healthcare for illegal aliens and every hand went up. Two weeks ago I wrote about hundreds of illegal aliens from Africa who walked across the Rio Grande and instantly became legal by telling border guards they were seeking asylum. From Texas, they were put on buses to Portland, Maine.

The Democrats who have retaken control of Maine government are working hard to renew state welfare subsidies for the City of Portland when that city gives welfare to former illegal aliens — now asylees. California recently authorized free healthcare to illegal aliens. Most of the Democrat presidential candidates promise “Medicare For All” if they’re elected. What they don’t tell us is that hospitals and other health care providers would go out of business if they had to accept only Medicare rates for their services.

When my primary care physician (PCP) was fired from Bridgton Hospital for refusing to take on the huge caseload new management tried to impose on him, I had to search for a new PCP. My wife’s PCP had left Bridgton Hospital earlier and joined Intermed in Portland, but that practice wasn’t taking on any more Medicare patients — which is what I had become when I turned sixty-six. I understood why; they were losing money on Medicare patients. Fortunately for me, however, my wife’s PCP agreed to take me on anyway.

My point here is that private health insurance payments far exceed low Medicare rates, but even with those de facto subsidies, Medicare is still projected to go broke. Still, Democrat presidential candidates are declaring they would abolish private health insurance if elected — which would, of course, hasten Medicare’s bankruptcy. About 150 million Americans pay for private health insurance policies.

Here’s hoping I’m not wrong in my belief that voters in 2020 will realize we cannot afford what Democrats are proposing. Heck, we can’t even afford what we’re doing now with the national debt increasing at almost a trillion dollars a year. In 2019 our $22 trillion debt eclipsed our gross domestic product (GDP) and shows no sign of slowing down. The two biggest drivers of annual budget deficits are Social Security and Medicare and politicians of both stripes lack sufficient courage to tackle those “third-rail” issues.

I voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and will likely vote for him again in 2020 if present trends continue. However, he’s not doing much about deficit spending. He has increased economic growth with tax cuts and reduced regulation. Federal revenue is up as a result, but not enough to balance the budget. Unfortunately, the best I can say about Trump and the deficit is that the Democrats are likely to be worse than he has been. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Moving The Electoral Goal Posts

Democrats have been bitterly disappointed by some election results over the past two decades — both nationally and in Maine, so now they want to move the goal posts. Maine Democrats were burned when they nominated a weak gubernatorial candidate in 2010 in the person of Libby Mitchell. She got only 18.8% (108,387) of the vote, while the winner, Governor Paul LePage got 37.6% (218,065). He might not have won if there weren’t a spoiler candidate named Elliot Cutler in the race who obtained 35.9% (208,270) of total votes cast. 

Mitchell, Cutler, and LePage
Cutler was an Independent but ran on a platform far to the left of Republican LePage. He supported public funding for abortion, opposed education vouchers, favored same-sex marriage, affirmative action, and amnesty for illegal aliens. If either he or Mitchell were running head-to-head against LePage, the outcome would likely have been different. 

LePage, Cutler, Michaud

In 2014, Maine Democrats nominated former congressman Mike Michaud, but again Elliot Cutler ran as an independent liberal — and again he was the spoiler drawing 8.43% ((51,405) of the vote that, if it were added to fellow liberal Mike Michaud’s 43.34% (264,369), would have put him over the top against LePage who won reelection. Democrats were furious. They hated LePage who was a fighter much like President Trump whom he endorsed for President in 2016. 

Democrats nationally never got over losing the 2000 election to George W. Bush after their candidate, Al Gore, had won the popular vote but lost the electoral vote. That’s only happened five times in US History but the last two occurred in the past two decades and both times it was the Democrat candidate who was burned. The second one, as I’m sure you know, was Hillary Clinton in 2016.

After the hated Maine Governor Paul LePage’s reelection with a plurality of the vote, Democrats circulated a referendum petition for something called “Ranked Choice Voting” which passed in 2016. It was employed against Republican Congressman Bruce Poliquin who won a plurality of the 2018 popular vote and thought himself the winner — but the goal posts had been moved. Voters were urged to vote for all candidates on the ballot for a particular office. They could vote for just one candidate as they always had, or they can rank their choices first, second, third, etc.

If no candidate gets a majority of first choices, the candidate with the lowest vote total is eliminated and counting starts over. If there still isn’t a candidate with a majority of first choices, the process is repeated until there is. That’s how Democrat candidate Jared Golden was declared the winner. If balloting were done as it always had been, Republican Bruce Poliquin would have won reelection.

Supporters call ranked-choice balloting an “instant run-off.” Republicans call it an instant rip-off and consider the election flawed. A real run-off, the way other states like Louisiana do it, would mean the top two vote-getters then go head-to-head in another election. That way, the candidate with the most votes would win — a process voters can support because they understand it. If Poloquin and Golden were to have gone head-to-head, the result might well have been different.

Most Mainers who hated Governor LePage also hate President Trump and would like to eliminate the electoral college process that elected him. To do that, however, requires a constitutional amendment and that’s a very difficult process. I remember former Maine US Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, a Democrat, came to Fryeburg years ago and said the amendment process is intentionally difficult because our plan of government — which is what our constitution is — should never be changed without a broad, public consensus.

Article Five declares that to eliminate the electoral college, two-thirds of both houses of Congress would have to propose an amendment. Then it would have to be ratified by three-quarters of state legislatures. Democrats know there isn’t enough support for all that so, rather than follow the Constitutional process, they’re trying to circumvent it by forming something called “The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact,” or NPV. According to last month’s Imprimis:

Until this year, every state that had joined NPV was heavily Democratic: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. The NPV campaign has struggled to win other Democratic states: Delaware only adopted it this year and it still has not passed in Oregon (though it may soon). Following the 2018 election, Democrats came into control of both the legislatures and the governorships in the purple states of Colorado and New Mexico, which have subsequently joined NPV.

Maine Democrats almost passed a bill to join NPV but it lost narrowly last month. Had it passed, Maine would have forfeited power over its four electoral votes. They would instead have been awarded to whatever candidate won the most popular votes nationally.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Asylum Seeker Racket

It says: “Comments are disabled on some stories about sensitive topicsat the bottom of articles about hundreds of African “asylum seekers” coming into Portland, Maine on buses from San Antonio, Texas. That tells me The Portland Press Herald, Maine’s largest newspaper, knows illegal immigration is unpopular with Mainers and millions of other Americans across the country. The paper wants only its view presented and restricts opposing views.

Press Herald coverage amplifies anecdotes about the hardships endured by African families from Angola, Congo, and Cameroon who travel to Brazil, then Central America, and through Mexico to arrive at the Texas border demanding asylum. There’s no investigation, however, into who supported them on that long journey. Who paid their passage across the Atlantic? Who fed, clothed, and housed them on their months-long journey? Who told them to ask for asylum immediately after crossing the border and then ask to be bussed to Portland, Maine? Photographs of them arriving in Portland don’t depict people worn out after a harrowing journey. They’re well-dressed and some appear overweight.

A Swiss journalist named Urs Gehriger tried to interview these “asylum seekers” on the streets of San Antonio about how they got there. According to Fox News: “…he met hostility from people who didn’t want to share details about their experiences … and had rolls of $100 bills. They offered conflicting answers and contradicted each other.” They had crossed the Rio Grande illegally but immediately became “legal” after asking border officials for asylum because of the federal law congressional Democrats refuse to change. So, we can expect “asylum seekers” to just keep coming and they’re not illegal aliens; they’re “asylees.” Gehriger believes the illegals were coached on giving answers to authorities. “I had the impression that somebody told them not to speak about it,” and acting like “now we’re here, you have to help us, give us money,” he said.

Hundreds of Africans have arrived and as many as 1500 more are expected. There’s no hint in the PPH coverage about Mainers who believe Democrats support open-borders and who are unhappy about spending their tax money on people from anywhere in the world who make their way to Maine claiming “asylum.” How do “asylees” know that in little Portland, Maine they can get free food, medical care, housing, and education? When they arrive in Texas, they ask to be bussed here. Government officials in San Antonio also know Portland offers more free stuff for “asylum seekers” than almost anywhere else in the country.

When Democrats controlled Maine prior to 2012 and Portland gave illegal immigrants and “asylum seekers” General Assistance (welfare), the state reimbursed the city for 90% of it. Then former [Republican] Maine Human Services Director Mary Mayhew said in 2015: “For too long, legislators in Augusta have taken Maine citizens’ tax dollars and prioritized welfare dollars for illegal aliens over aid to elderly and disabled Maine citizens.” Former Governor LePage [also Republian] cut off state reimbursement for payments to illegal immigrants and “asylum seekers” in spite of efforts by then-Attorney General Janet Mills [a Democrat] to stop him. Now Democrats are back in control of Maine’s government and Janet Mills is governor. Expect them to restart the gravy train very soon.

It looks like Democrats are willing to pay for any number of people from anywhere in the world, yet they deny they support open borders. Yes, it’s nice to help people who are fleeing war and oppression, but is that the case with all of them? Many Mainers doubt it. Life in America is better than most places in the world and, according to a Gallup poll, a hundred fifty million more would like to come here. How many of those should we pay for? A million? Ten million? Fifty million? Ask a Democrat official and you won’t get a straight answer. Portland’s social services infrastructure cannot handle the ones we have already so local officials reach out to surrounding communities like South Portland where I’m also a taxpayer.

According to the Washington Examiner, Catholic Charities pays to bus the “asylum seekers” around the country. A ticket to New York for a family of five to seven cost $2000. Why would they do that? Is it because most of their budget comes from the federal government for resettling refugees and asylum seekers? American Catholic bishops support open borders and, according to newsmax.com: “Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services [in the USA] received $202,000,000 and $426,943,000 respectively in 2016.”

There are at least 3000 asylum seekers in Maine who wait two years for their cases to be heard by an immigration court. However, US Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan reported earlier this month that 90% of asylum seekers in the country never show up. Is that because their asylum claims are phony? After defaulting on their court appearances they all become illegal aliens again and McAleenan says very few will ever be deported.

Quite a racket, huh? Expect to read none of this in the Portland Press Herald.